With Jon Stewart's exit, the Catholic Church loses one of its best critics
Real news broke yesterday concerning the king of fake news, Jon Stewart, who has revealed that he will step down from the anchor chair of Comedy Central's The Daily Show later this year. While we don't yet know who will replace him or what Stewart might do after he moves on, it is a safe bet that his sharp wit and biting sarcasm will be missed by many.
Everyone knows The Daily Show is a satire not meant to be taken seriously as a news program, but longtime fans of Stewart have come to appreciate him as something much more than a comedian. His news segments, though filled with jokes and jabs, are also deep social commentaries that don't hesitate to point out injustice, corruption, and abuse of power. There's no secret about which way he leans politically, but he's not afraid to criticize politicians on both sides of the aisle when they deserve it. And his interviews with major political figures and power brokers reveal he's incredibly smart, quick on his feet, and unafraid to push people to answer the tough questions.
Through the years I've also come to appreciate Stewart's segments about the Catholic Church. Stewart himself was raised Jewish but doesn't consider himself to be religious. He is married to a Catholic woman, which gives him at least some connection to the church (he once quipped during an interview on his show, “My wife is Catholic. I’m Jewish. It’s very interesting; we’re raising the children to be sad”). But for a non-Catholic, Stewart has shown a great deal of knowledge about the church and has been more informed in his coverage than a lot of "serious" news programs--even those staffed by Catholics.
Take, for example, this 2010 piece on the church's past handling of sexual abuse and its negative reaction to media coverage of it. The criticism comes across (to me, at least) as fair, smart, and funny without ever crossing the line into being disrespectful.
Stewart also provided some of the best commentaries on the church's battle with the Obama administration over birth control in 2012, again showing a deeper understanding of the issue than a lot of pundits seemed to have. But where Stewart offers criticism, he also gives praise: He has frequently applauded Pope Francis for his words and actions over the past two years.
Sure, not all Catholics are fans of Stewart (and he's been a frequent target of Bill Donahue's Catholic League). But criticism always hurts, even (or perhaps, especially) when it is warranted. Stewart has been an unflinching social commentator who has brought a unique insight to issues in the Catholic Church--and the world at large--to an audience that often tunes out the real news media. And somehow, he's managed to do it with a touch of humor. It is a perspective that I, along with millions of other viewers, will definitely miss hearing.